What is the spiritual connection in islam? What is the rabitah? What is the istianah? What is the istighathah in islam?
In the Sufi way, a student is a journeyman (salik) who tries to complete his spiritual voyage (sayr-i suluk) by getting his heart trained under the guidance of a master (murshid). He does his best to rid his heart of its thickness and weight by sticking to the path his master lays out for him. He takes to the whole training with an attitude of submission.
And the master or murshid is the guide, who shows him how to refine his heart.
Rabitah literally means a bond, connection or reunion; and it has spiritual as well as physical connotations. There is no creature in the universe without some sort of spiritual and physical connection with another. This connection or rabitah allows for both istianah and istighathah, which are ways of seeking spiritual help and refuge through another being.
In one sense, rabitah consists purely of love; and it enables to keep the love in the heart warm and alive.
There are three types of rabitah.
- Natural Connection
This is the love a person feels for those close to him, like mother’s love for her child.
- Base Connection
This is the attachment some people have to the forbidden, like a gambler whose heart is so preoccupied with gambling that it makes him forget about the welfare of his wife and kids.
- Spiritual Connection
This is the attachment felt towards the sacred and divine, and any means that has potential to take a person closer to the Lord. It is to develop a love for people who have been able to polish their hearts and reach a level where they are able to gaze at the truth of the matter (mushahadah). It is to seek their company, either physically or spiritually, in the hope of making the most of what they have to offer.
The Qur’an states:
“O you who have believed! Fear Allah and be with those who are true!” (Al-Tawbah, 9: 119)
It is noteworthy that the Almighty does not say ‘be true!’. He rather commands us to ‘be with those who are true!’ Not only is this necessary to preserve taqwa, it also underlines the need for man to live among a community of righteous people to help him fulfil his duty of servanthood in the best way possible.
One who forms a loving connection with another emulates that person’s values and conduct as much as his capacity allows. The behavior of strong people is contagious. That is to say, people copy the conduct and states of mind of energetic characters. Those who are spiritually strong, inspire the weak. Compassionate, generous and selfless individuals have a positive impact on their communities.
However, this is just as valid for negative qualities. The Pharaoh’s henchmen, like his vizier Haman and the other statesmen, soon became spitting images of the Pharaoh themselves, for taking him as a role model.
The connection the Sufi way refers to as rabitah, opens up the heart to receive spiritual emotions. It rids it of egoistic and selfish desires and replaces them with the master’s conduct. It takes worldly wealth out of the heart and turns wealth into a means rather than an end.
The spiritual master’s heart is like a lens. It is a heart that has received a manifestation of the divine names, which have scorched all negative feelings. They have killed off every desire for the world. In time, this state of mind is transferred to the student, as much his love allows, to the point where he becomes one with the master.
The Prophet (saw) has in fact said:
“A person is with whom he loves.” (Al-Bukhari, Adab, 96)
“A person who tries to imitate a group of people is one of them.” (Abu Dawud, Libas, 4/4301)
Imam Ghazzali says it is necessary to have a peace of heart when offering prayer, and adds:
“It is necessary to envision the Prophet (saw) during the first and last sittings of prayer, through the eye of the heart.” This underlines the need to establish a connection, or rabitah, with the Prophet (saw).
Mirroring a State of Mind
As mentioned above, characters or states of mind are contagious. Some of the ways in which they are transmitted are as follows:
- The Look (Nazar)
This refers to the gaze of prophets and saints.
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“Beware the foresight of a believer, for he looks with the light of Allah.” (Al-Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 15)
A person with a sound and peaceful heart can transmit his state of mind just through a look. The look conveys the inspiration within the heart to the recipient.
The companions are the most exquisite among all believers for having been in the company of the Prophet (saw) and on the receiving end of his look. To be seen by the Prophet (saw) is in fact a requirement for any believer to be considered a companion.
- The Word
The words spoken by a person who has cleansed his heart and soul, carry his emotions, and words laden with these emotions have an effect on the listener.
- Spiritual Gatherings (Sohbah)
Spiritual gatherings are places that also establish a physical attachment. The various spiritual emotions felt in the hearts people who are there, reflect on those around. It offers a chance for the spiritually weak to become inspired and energized by those who are spiritually stronger.
In a number of times and places, the companions sought their spiritual energy from the food the Prophet (saw) offered or left over.
There are a number of reports that recount the times when the Prophet (saw) would drink some milk and offer the companions the rest. This would allow a transferal of spiritual energy (fayz) but also increase the abundance (barakah) of the milk, which would not decrease regardless of the number of companions that drank from it.
Sahl ibn Sad (ra) remembers when:
“A cup of drink was brought to the Messenger of Allah (saw). He drank a bit of it. There was a small kid to his right and some elderly companions to his left. Humble and courteous as ever, he turned to the kid and said:
“Would you please allow me to offer this drink to the elderly?”
However, the kid was smart and gave this reply, which astonished us all:
“Messenger of Allah! I honestly could not possibly forfeit a share, if you are the person offering it!”
The Messenger of Allah (saw) then handed the cup over to him. (Al-Bukhari, Ashribah, 19)
Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (ra) would cook for the Prophet (saw), when he had him over as guest during the first months of the Hegira. If the plate was returned with some leftovers, Abu Ayyub (ra) would finish it up, especially taking care to eat from the spots where he suspected the Prophet (saw) had touched with his fingers. (Muslim, Ashribah, 170-171)
During the Tabuk campaign, when the companions were running low on drinking water, the Prophet (saw) had a small amount of water tipped on his fingers. Water then burst forth like a fountain from his index finger, which the companions drank from and filled up their bottles with. This water is better and more therapeutic than the zamzam, as it sprung directly from the finger of the Prophet (saw).
- Personal Belongings
A number of sources report that the Prophet (saw) used to lean on a date log while giving his sermons. After a pulpit was made for the mosque, he stopped doing so. However, then the log began to audibly cry and calmed down only when the Prophet (saw) caressed it. (Al-Bukhari, Manaqib, 25)
Again, the Prophet (saw) sent his own mantle to Uwais al-Qarani and said:
“Let him wear this mantle and pray for the believers!” (Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahabah, 223-225)
Jacob (as) was all the way in Canaan, when he got a smell of Joseph’s (as) shirt that had just departed from Egypt. He was able to regain his vision, by casting the shirt over his eyes.
Beyond seeking blessings (tabarruk) through personal belongings, there are a number of other ways to receive spiritual benefits. They include mentioning the names of saints, whilst meditating (muraqabah) with the purpose of forming a spiritual connection.
Sufyan ibn Uyaynah has in fact said:
“Mercy descends when the righteous are remembered!” (Ajluni, Kashfu’l Khafa, II, 70/1772)
Also striking in this regard is the Qur’an’s story about the Sleepers of the Cave. Qitmir was just a dog. However, it also received a share of grace for guarding righteous people. It is reported that it, too, will enter paradise with the righteous (Bursevi, Ruhu’l Bayan, V, 226). If a dog can reach that high a level just by accompanying the righteous, one should pause to think about the levels that await a believer who does the same with a genuine intent.
Before the coming of Islam, most of the companions were leading lives that defied their purpose of creation. Nevertheless, afterward, they turned into the most virtuous people ever known, just through the reflection of the Prophet’s (saw) mannerisms on their personal lives. The Prophet (saw) has transmitted these emotions to a spiritual chain of saints (silsila), who in turn pass it to others, through spiritual connections and gatherings. In the end, the Prophet’s (saw) exemplary character reflects onto the student, inasmuch as his capacity can take.
The Qur’an says:
“O you who have believed! Fear Allah and seek means of nearness to Him.” (Al-Maidah, 5: 35)
Some scholars of the Qur’an have interpreted this ‘means of nearness’ (wasilah) as to embody the Prophet’s (saw) morals by receiving training under the guidance of a spiritual master.
Imam Malik says:
“When praying for something, mention the Prophet’s (saw) name as a means!”
Imam Shafii has said:
“Whenever I got stuck on a certain problem, I would offer a two-rakat prayer and visit the grave of Abu Hanifah. And in the end, my problem would be resolved.”
Imam Jazari has a similar advice:
“Take prophets and saints as means to have your wishes granted!”
This act of taking pious people as means is called tawassul and it is a practice that has its source in the Prophet (saw).
Ibn Abbas (ra) explains:
“The Jews of Khaybar would war with the Arabs of Ghatafan; but every time, they would lose. They eventually prayed:
‘Our Lord! We ask You for victory for the sake of the Unlettered Prophet You promised to send near the end of time!’ In the next battle, the Ghatafan were routed. But when the Prophet (saw), who they had sought as a means for victory, emerged, they denied him. That was the reason the Almighty revealed the following:
“And before, they used to pray for victory against those who disbelieved. But then when there came to them that which they recognized, they denied it. So Allah’s curse will be upon the disbelievers!” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 89) (Al-Qurtubi, II, 27; al-Wahidi, Asbab al-Nuzul, p. 31)
Soon after the Prophet (saw) passed away, Medina suffered a severe drought. People gathered and sought the advice of Aisha (rha), who said:
“Go to the Blessed Messenger’s (saw) grave and open up a window to the sky. Let there be no veil between the sky and the Prophet (saw).”
They did as they were advised and soon, they received heavy downpour, which turned Medina green. That year was in fact referred to as the ‘year of abundance’ (amu’l fatq). (Darimi, Muqaddimah)
There are also a number of reports about instances of seeking out righteous people as means:
During a time of drought, Umar (ra) took Abbas (ra) with him to pray for rain. (Al-Bukhari, Istisqa, 3)
A man would frequently go to Uthman (ra) to ask him to take care of a personal need but Uthman (ra) would not pay him any attention. The man complained about the situation to Ibn Hunayf (ra), who said:
“Take wudu, head to the mosque to offer a two-rakat prayer and plead, ‘My Allah! I turn to You and ask You for the sake of Muhammed (saw), the Prophet of Mercy. O Muhammed! I turn with you to your Lord. Please, take care of my need.” He told the man to then mention exactly what he wants.
The man went and did as he was advised. Afterwards, he turned up once again at the door of Uthman (ra). The doorman took him by the hand to Uthman (ra). This time, Uthman (ra) had him seated on the cushion next to him and asked:
“What is it that you need?” The man told him what he needed and it was immediately met. Uthman (ra) then asked:
“Why did you not tell me this before? Next time you need anything, come straight to me!”
The man left and immediately went to thank Ibn Hunayf (ra).
“May Allah reward you with good”, he said. “He never gave me any time of day until I spoke to you.”
Ibn Hunayf (ra) thereupon said, “I assure you I did not come up with the idea. But I once saw a blind man say to the Prophet:
‘Messenger of Allah…Please ask Allah to cure my eyes. I find it difficult to go on like this!’
‘It will be better for you if you kept patient…if you wish, that is’, the Prophet (saw) replied.
However, the blind man said, ‘Messenger of Allah…I have no one to take me by the hand; and I find it really hard to get on with my day. So, please, pray for me to regain my vision!’
The Prophet (saw) then told him to:
‘Take wudu, offer a two-rakat prayer and plead:
‘My Allah…I turn to you and ask You personally for the sake of Muhammed, the Prophet of Mercy. O Muhammed! I turn to your Lord for Him to take care of my need. My Allah! Allow him to intercede for me!’” (Al-Tirmidhi, Da’awat, 118; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, IV, 138; al-Haysami, Majma’ al-Zawaid, II, 279)
Hakim narrates that the blind man had regained his vision the moment he got back up. (Hakim, Mustadrak, I, 707-708)
Utbah ibn Ghazwan (ra) recounts how the Prophet (saw) once said:
“If you happen to be at an isolated place and lose something or find yourself in need of help, call out: يَا عِبَادَ اللّٰهِ أَعِينُونِي ‘Servants of Allah…help me!’. For, Allah has servants that you cannot see.” (Al-Haysami, Majma al-Zawaid, X, 132; Imam Nawawi, al-Adhkar, 201)
Imam Nawawi, who reports this, also adds:
“The person who taught me that hadith explained to me how he once got out of a similar spot of bother by doing exactly what the Prophet (saw) advised. I was taken aback. Then, sometime later, I saw a person unable to catch his camel, which kept on running off. I decided to relay this hadith to the man. He acted on it and soon, the camel, for no apparent reason, stayed put, and he caught it without any trouble.”
Mansur ibn Abdullah narrates the following from Abu Abdullah ibn Jalla, who says:
“I had arrived in Medina a poor man, worse for wear. I went to the grave of the Prophet (saw), gave him my greetings and said:
‘Messenger of Allah…I am in a poor state and need help! I have come to you as a guest.’
Moments later, tiredness got the better of me and I took a nap. The Prophet (saw) came to me in my dream and offered me a muffin. I ate half of it. When I woke up, I found the other half right next to me.”
The following is from Ibn Abbas (ra):
“I once saw the Prophet (saw) in my dream. He showed me kindness and mercy. When I woke, I thought it would be good to pay a visit one of his wives. She showed me a mirror the Prophet (saw) had used. I looked at the mirror and saw, not my own reflection, but the beautiful face of the Prophet (saw).”
This is a result of spiritual connection. It shows how one becomes annihilated or lost (fana) in the person with whom he establishes that bond.
Ubaydullah Ahrar has said:
“When the Almighty says ‘Fear Allah and be with those who are true’, the fact He uses the word ‘be’ implies that the need to be with the righteous, is constant. This has two meanings. Firstly, when in the physical presence of the righteous, one has to ensure that the heart is also present, and secondly, one needs to evoke them in their absence.”
Carrying on the love and respect for the spiritual master even in his absence, and embodying his morals at all times is called fana fi’s-sheikh, which means to become annihilated in the master.
However, it must be made clear that the spiritual guide (murshid-i kamil) with whom this connection or rabitah has been made, is not a third person that stands between one and Allah. There is no clergy in Islam. The guide is simply an exemplary person for the student to take as a role model to guide him on his spiritual journey. Just as a car we travel is not an end but a means, the spiritual master is simply someone closer to Allah, who serves as a means to train the heart of the journeyman and adorn his inner world with the morals of the Prophet (saw). Holiness is an attribute that belongs exclusively to Allah.
Beyond the level of fana fi’s-sheikh is that of fana fi’r-rasul, which is to become lost in the Prophet (saw). At this level, a person embodies the Prophet’s (saw) morals by behaving, at every moment, as if he was in his presence. It was Abu Bakr (ra) who lived this state of mind to perfection. It is narrated that:
“Abu Bakr (ra) once told the Prophet (saw) that his vision never left him, even when he was in the bathroom.”
It was a result of Abu Bakr’s (ra) total annihilation in him that on his deathbed, the Prophet (ra) said:
“Close all doors, except for the one that opens to the chamber of Abu Bakr!” (Al-Bukhari, Ashabu’n-Nabi, 3)
Those words beautifully suggest how spirituality flows from one heart to another. In the end, it allows one to unravel the mysteries of:
“And He is with you, wherever you may be.” (Al-Hadid, 57: 4)
“We are closer to man than his jugular vein.” (Qaf, 50: 16)
This ultimately takes one to the level of fana f’illah, annihilation in Allah.
Another evidence of rabitah in the Qur’an is this:
“And the lady of the house shut the doors and said, ‘Come to me.’ He said, ‘I seek refuge in Allah. He is my Master, who has made my stay comfortable. And wrongdoers will never succeed!’ She was certainly determined to seduce him, and he, too, would have inclined had he not seen the proof of his Lord. It was to keep him away from evil and immorality. He was indeed of Our chosen servants.” (Yusuf, 12: 23-24)
Interpreters of the Qur’an have said:
“What ‘the proof’ refers to in the verse is that just as Joseph (as) momentarily thought of accepting the advances of Zulaykha, his father Jacob (as) appeared before his eyes with his index finger on his mouth, and said:
‘Come to your senses and turn away!’ And it was only after the appearance of his father’s image that Joseph got himself together and kept away.”
As explained in the scholarly interpretation of this verse, rabitah is very much like Joseph (as) seeing the image of Jacob (as), where a student keeps the image of his master in front of his eyes, as well as inside his heart. It is also a type of rabitah to mentally and vocally remember the Prophet (saw), and to form with him a loving bond in the heart.
It is very difficult for humans to grasp or feel an abstract truth without comparing it to a physical shape or entity. For example, knowledge displays itself in the scholar, love in the beloved and art in the artist. Thus, it is impossible to present the abstract unless on some sort of a canvass.
All relations, like that between a master and disciple, a teacher and student, have to do with a spiritual connection. It is through this connection that the guide injects his spiritual qualities into the journeyman.
A student can be overwhelmed with sublime emotions when in the physical presence of the master. However, it is just as important to sustain these emotions in his absence. Only through this does a person grasp the essence of rabitah. It is otherwise impossible to be in the physical company of saints all the time.
Through a chain of saints, rabitah enables the inspiration from the Prophet (saw) to flow to anyone willing and ready to take it. The last person in the line can well receive the same current, very much like a chain of people caught in a current of electricity Spiritual help comes as a result of this. This spiritual aid is referred to as istianah and istighathah.
A Bond with Death
In the Sufi way, rabita-i mawt is to establish a bond with the thought of death. Thinking about death has an enormous impact on a person’s state of mind and behavior. The Prophet (saw) has said:
“Always remember that which uproots all pleasures…that is to say, death.” (Al-Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 4)
“Death suffices as an adviser.” (Suyuti, Jamiu’s Saghir, II, 77)
Ibn Umar (ra) explains:
“I was with the Messenger of Allah (saw) when a companion from Medina greeted him and asked:
‘Who, Messenger of Allah, is the most virtuous among all people?’
‘The one who has superior morals’, said the Messenger (saw).
The man then asked, ‘And who is the most intelligent among believers?’
‘The one who remembers death the most and prepares for the life after’, said the Messenger (saw). ‘It is these who are the most intelligent.’ (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 31/4259)
Reflecting on death undoubtedly reduces the love for the world, which comes from the ego and really does nothing but to unsettle a person. An excess love of money, professional ranks and pleasures that appeal to the flesh are symptoms of many spiritual illnesses, like forgetfulness. To protect our hearts from forming a bond with these passing things, we need to think about the grave and the death that will inevitably come. This will encourage us to genuinely repent, and keep worldly ambitions and trivial pursuits out of our souls. The dhikr and rabitah we sustain will hopefully become means for our eternal happiness.
May Allah turn our hearts into springs of His remembrance and love!
. Sufism refers to this as tajliyah, which literally means to ‘polish’. In the spiritual sense, it is to polish the mirror of the heart from the dirt of base thoughts and the weight of all things other than God (masiwa); and to ultimately replace that with a lightness, shine and purity through divine remembrance.
. For more on rabitah, see Osman Nuri Topbas, Îmândan İhsana Tasavvuf, p. 249-257.
. For more on this, see Osman Nuri Topbas, Îmândan İhsana Tasavvuf, p. 411-414.
. See, Kalabazi, Ta’arruf, translated by S. Uludag, p. 214. For more detail on tawassul, see Osman Nuri Topbas, Îmândan İhsana Tasavvuf, p. 399-410.
. For more on this subject, see Osman Nuri Topbas, Îmândan İhsana Tasavvuf, p. 255-257.